Jorge Luis Borges Borges, Jorge Luis (Vol. 10)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Borges, Jorge Luis 1899–

Borges is an Argentine short story writer, poet, essayist, critic, and translator. He is one of the most important and original figures in contemporary literature, best known for his Ficciones. Developing archetypal concepts of myth through fantasy, Borges creates a fictional world without the constants of time and reality, searching not for "truth" but for a polysemous quality of vision. He was influenced early in his career by the ultraísta movement in Spain, and brought this influence, with its emphasis on metaphor, to Latin America. Borges has collaborated with Adolfo Bioy Casares under the pseudonyms of H(onorio) Bustos Domecq and B. Suarez Lynch. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

Robert Scholes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Borges needs neither praise nor explanation from me or anyone else. My discussion of him, then, must be neither of these, though it may partake of both. It is a personal statement in the form of a modest fiction: the creation of a character named Borges, based on certain documents that have appeared in the English language bearing that name. The title of this performance might have been even more presumptuous—"Borges and I"—or, most presumptuous, "My Borges."

My Borges writes English, of course, though he has gone to some lengths to disguise this fact. Sometimes his works appear as translations made by people with patently fictional names like Norman Thomas di Giovanni. On other occasions he has published poems, designating these English texts as translations made by some of the finest poets of our day. (pp. 12-13)

The ingenuity of Borges in disguising his true situation can hardly be credited. He has gone to the incredible length of planting different versions of his English texts, sometimes so strikingly at odds that mere error can hardly account for the differences. Let me cite an instance of this, in which he has clearly overplayed his hand. In a book called Other Inquisitions, in a text bearing the possibly spurious dateline Buenos Aires, December 23, 1946, he writes of a supposed ancestor who

left Argentine letters some memorable poetry, and who tried to reform the teaching of philosophy by purifying it of theological shadows and exposing the principles of Locke and Condillac. He died in exile; like all men, he was born at the wrong time….

                                           (p. 13)

The clinching case for the Anglicism (whether British or North American) of this elusive author may be found in the writers he alludes to most frequently. There are in his works, of course, a few perfunctory references to Cervantes, Quevedo, and Unamuno, designed to provide a sort of literary local color, and there are even pseudo-allusions to South American authors who are probably inventions of Borges himself, like the notorious Honorio Bustos Domecq and B. Suarez Lynch. But the authors he returns to most often are a relatively small group of British men of letters who were prominent at the end of the last century: G. K. Chesterton, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, G. B. Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, and H. G. Wells. He knows these writers better and reads them more sympathetically than most English teachers do. Can you imagine an English professor saying of Wilde, "He was an ingenious man who was also right"?… It is even harder to imagine an Argentine writer saying it. After all, not even the French, who dare to admire Poe, have gone so far as to admire Wilde. Even Gide only pitied him. But Borges is clearly steeped in the work of these British writers. They, along with the North Americans, Poe and Hawthorne, and a few Europeans like Kafka and Valéry, are his true literary ancestors. (p. 14)

By sketching for you a factually false version of Borges, I have intended to raise some questions about the relationship between fiction and reality which he has considered himself and upon which he has shed as much light as any living writer. And...

(The entire section is 5,805 words.)